Chapter 17, Kiss me like a solider heading for war
Col. George Walker-Smythe dines with two Pevensies: one is a Crow; the other is an Ass. Edmund begins a tale for Morgan.
"The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it."
"Promise me you'll never forget me because if I thought you would I'd never leave."
A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
Chapter title from Joking by Indigo Girls
Note: The chapter includes, as much of this arc will, a look back. Chapters 20 and 22 of The Queen Susan in Tashbaan and Chapter 4 of Apostolic Way have had flashbacks to a day and night in the immediate aftermath of Horse and His Boy: Peter and Susan meet and discuss Rabadash and the death of their sword master, the Satyr, Sir Leszi; Peter coaxes Leszi's son, Cyrus, out of a tree; Peter and Edmund talk of Leszi's farewell and Aslan's charge to love those you don't like very much; Morgan attends the farewell for Sir Leszi, her first since Jina's death, and speaks on behalf of those the soldiers leave behind; Edmund tells Morgan a little of the mole spies and the death of his first Guard, Merle.
This chapter begins and concludes with another look back to the evening of Leszi's farewell. In between, there is a very awkward dinner and because people tend to forget (I know I have to look it up), Colonel Walker-Smythe's first name is George.
Harold said that the dancing and drinking at Leszi's Farewell bonfire had a sharp edge. She didn't really have anything to compare it to as Morgan had avoided the ceremonies for the last three years, ever since she had died. Morgan had not even gone to Wrasse's Farewell, and she'd known and liked the smug Black Leopard.
After the speeches and Farewell, she and Cyrus raced beetles with the Crows and she tried to help the boy with his father's death. Then the Crows started to eat the beetles and Morgan decided it was time for Cyrus to spend the rest of the evening with the other children.
The other children.
That was a change for the better.
Overnight, Cair Paravel had filled with the Archen children who had arrived with Aidan – his own twin sons and daughter, and his nieces. Being around children wasn't unusual for Morgan as the Banking Houses had been similar, with generations living together and youngsters educated communally. She had frequently taught classes.
It was a lot noisier with children about. They ate a lot though that was in part because Aidan's family had never had enough to eat before. They never slowed down. Most of the Narnians didn't have much experience with Human children, so that was fun, too, seeing how they would try to herd them, ask if they needed to nurse, or try to carry them around in their mouths. And best of all, the Narnians were really shocked to learn, They are like this for years?!
She walked with Harold about the bonfire and together they gave their thanks to the Dwarf and Faun musicians for the wild, haunting music, to the Dryads who gave their dead wood for the fire, and to the Satyroi who had lost one of their own. The Satyroi had returned Leszi's body to his mother in the Trees and that night Pan would come and take the body and some day remake a Satyr in Leszi's likeness.
Many thanked her for how she had spoken at the Farewell for the small, the weak, the young and the old who stayed behind worrying for those who had gone to war on their behalf. Morgan had stood with those who had prepared to make their own fierce but frail last stand at Cair Paravel if their loved ones failed against Rabadash's raiders at Anvard or fell to Ettins on the northern border as Leszi had.
She and Harold skirted around a screeching little mob at the base of a kindly Oak. Cyrus was perched in a branch and exhorting the other children to just jump – which was easy if you had the agility of a Goat, or a Satyr.
"I wouldn't trust one of them to fetch a bucket of water," Harold grumbled.
"Frieda is very responsible," Morgan countered, speaking in defence of the eldest of the Archen children. "I'm sure she's been taking care of all of them. Briony likes her very well."
Harold steered them, arm and arm, away from the blazing heat and light of the fire, the shrieks, wild music, and hysterical laughter. It felt cooler and calmer; she wriggled her bare feet and felt lush grass between her toes. He was angling in the direction of the Palace and Morgan knew his purpose. They'd not had time to do more than skim the verse and illustrations in volume 4 of the book he'd scrounged in Tashbaan. Efforts at performance had been truncated, at best.
"I think I am feeling my age," Harold said and ran a hand through his hair. "Riding to a siege has a way of prompting self-examination."
Morgan shivered and put her head on his shoulder. "Yes, it does."
His arm tightened around her. "I know it was difficult, but it is what we must do to defend our country," Harold said softly. "We've been fortunate that such things are far less common than they once were."
"Knowing doesn't make the doing any easier," she replied.
He leaned in and kissed her temple. "For my part, I think sitting and waiting as we rode off is far worse. By all accounts, you were indispensable."
"I didn't like it, Edmund." Morgan had learned when she should use his real name and she knew he liked it when she remembered to do so.
"And yet I hear you were an admirable inspiration and leader through this crisis."
"It was what had to be done," she replied, conceding his ability to elicit from her what he had also admitted.
It had been terrible. The day Harold and Susan had sailed to Tashbaan, the High King and most of the Army had ridden north to beat back the Ettin incursion. Morgan had remained with Lucy at Cair Paravel. Morgan had assumed responsibility for sending and receiving the regular, and increasingly dire, messages from both quarters. Lucy responded to the rising crisis by wearing her chain mail, strapping her sword to her back, lashing dagger and cordial at her side, striding about, tall and firm, giving orders, and instilling confidence wherever she went.
"Put a fighting face on!" Lucy had exhorted. "If you look brave, everyone will think they can be brave, too."
Morgan had been terrified but, with Mrs. Furner's help, she'd found boots and tough leathers so she looked the part of a leader - well, second to Lucy's command. She made an effort to speak very clearly and give opinions about personnel and orders about supplies as decisively as she spoke on finance.
The reports Susan and Edmund's flight from Tashbaan in the dead of night was swiftly followed by the news of Leszi's death. She and Lucy both thought reprisal from Calormen for the insult to be a real threat. With most of the standing Army with the High King and Narnia not equipped to fight on two fronts, Lucy called up the reserves and organized their defence.
Morgan took charge of the preparations to lay in for a siege. Every Narnian with a nose knew she was frightened and anyone with sense was as well. But Morgan knew what the Palace needed day to day, knew how many would likely shelter there, and knew what their needs would be. She could count jugs of oil, barrels of grain, nuts, roots, and water, and see that tinder; forage, herds and flocks were brought inside the Palace walls. If she said that there would be enough fodder for every Narnian within Cair Paravel (and refugees as well) for a month (and there was), it was so. She realized her confident assurances helped the Narnians, too, in a way. What she did was different than what Lucy did or what the Army and the High King were doing, but it was important nonetheless.
The Splendour Hyaline was sighted, and no sooner had she docked, then Chervy had burst in warning of the attack upon Anvard. They'd disembarked, Edmund and Lucy rode off to war, and Morgan could do nothing but wait and prepare for what happened if their pathetically small fighting force fell to Rabadash and his 200 horse.
"Why don't we go inside?" Harold murmured, a simple soldier returned from war and wanting nothing more than to return to his own bed and make love to his wife. Morgan followed her husband into the Palace.
Having known the sister so well, George didn't make the same mistakes with her brother. George assumed from the outset that Edmund Pevensie's identity card and passport were lies. George had concluded that Susan Caspian née Pevensie was in her early 30s. After careful observation on their first day of traveling, George thought her brother was, perhaps, a few years younger.
Brother and sister were cut of the same fine, rich cloth, had the same quality of mature self-possession, and carried themselves with the same confidence and certitude. There were important differences, too. Mrs. Caspian dominated rooms with her presence; even when sitting in a corner taking her strange shorthand, she would draw attention. Mrs. Caspian had been helpful, efficient, organized and, yes, proud, so much so that one had the sense that she was deigning to do the task at hand. Crowds parted before her.
If Edmund Pevensie possessed the same commanding presence as his sister, and he likely did, George had not seen it, yet. More notable, in part because his sister had not acted so, was Edmund's remarkable knack for disappearing into the woodwork. Your eyes could slide right by him. Edmund could move silently; more than once, he had been startled to discover Pevensie reading over his shoulder and George hadn't even known he was there. He slipped without comment or instruction into the role of courier, bag carrier, coffee-fetcher, door opener, and notetaker. He could become practically invisible, except that he was always there.
Edmund Pevensie was a natural spy.
At the moment he was doing a damnable impression of George's longtime batman and junior aide. Their train crawled into New York's Grand Central Station and it was a mad crush of humanity in bulky coats, blasting heat, freezing cold, dirty stairs, poor signage, and shins banged on errant suitcases and steamer trunks. Pevensie handled the whole of the chaos with easy aplomb. He tipped the porter, carried their luggage, and found the taxi stand without George directing him.
"You've not been here before, have you?" George finally asked as they queued up outside in the snowy cold, jostling uncomfortably against the many people and their many, many precious possessions.
"No, Colonel," Pevensie replied, tilting his hat back and looking in the direction of the Chrysler Building. "I am, however, a very good logistics man."
The most ridiculous thing about so conceited a statement was that Pevensie was absolutely correct.
Steam billowed up around them from beneath the pavement – George always thought it made New York look like it was built on hell. The heat melted the snow into grimy pools. "New York City usually elicits a greater reaction from the first time visitor."
"It is very impressive, particularly the lack of damage and the sense of normality. You would hardly know there was a war on." Pevensie straightened his fedora, flexed his hands in his gloves, bent down, and picked up their cases. "Given the queue for a taxi, should we just walk, Colonel? Rockefeller Centre is only eight blocks north."
One of the benefits of being preceded by Mrs. Caspian was that the office girls at the British Security Coordination offices were happy to assist their much-admired friend's brother when he arrived. George left Pevensie in the care of the exceedingly competent secretarial pool with instructions on the clothing and paperwork he needed to acquire and then directing him to a training session with the drivers who operated the BSC motor pool.
A series of interminable meetings began about the just-completed Casablanca Conference between Churchill and Roosevelt. George briefed the SOE staff and Stephenson on what he'd learned in London. With the Africa campaign concluding, it was time to begin inroads into Fortress Europe. Churchill had prevailed and convinced Roosevelt that securing the Mediterranean and proceeding through the soft, vulnerable underbelly of Southern Europe should be next – Italy. Operation Husky was laid in for the summer and the planning for the invasion of Sicily begun.
The Combined Chiefs would continue meeting in Washington and devise a plan that would be submitted to General Eisenhower who was charged with implementing the invasion. In the meetings, George reviewed the latest, and to date, wildest, ruse the Twenty Committee had approved – Operation Mincemeat contemplated rigging a corpse to wash ashore in Spain with faked battle plans. Even assuming the Odysseus in Room 13 could pull it off, diverting Nazi attention from Sicily would require more than a later day Trojan Horse. For their contribution, the SOE could make use of Hitler's Balkan paranoia and would try to devise other ways to send the Nazis haring off toward Greece and away from Sicily.
All war was deception and the SOE, with enough resources and time, could bamboozle the Nazis into thinking the Allies were tunneling their way into Berlin like moles.
They were just concluding meeting number four, which involved maps of the Mediterranean and North Africa and a lot of coffee, when George received a note that Pevensie had completed his assigned tasks in the offices, spent two hours behind the wheel of a car in New York City traffic without a citation or casualty, had collected their luggage and checked them into the adjacent hotel. The envelope included the key, room number, hotel telephone number, and information on dinner, where they were both invited to be the guests of Lieutenant John Pevensie at 8 o'clock at the Rainbow Room. If the Colonel required anything further, he was to send a note to the receptionist, Virginia, who knew to forward the request on to Edmund, now Private, Pevensie.
Pevensie's handwriting was as beautiful as his sister's.
George excused himself as the ice was being fetched and the cocktails stirred, citing a long travel day and a dinner obligation. Their hotel was a privately run inn, just across the Plaza, all very discreet and anonymously hosting foreign nationals doing dirty work in violation of American law and sovereignty.
He didn't bother to knock and just used the recently oiled key Pevensie had provided.
"Good evening, Sir." Edmund was sitting at the desk, bent over an American driving manual, and stood to help George with his valise and overcoat. The room was Spartan, small, green, and with two tiny beds shoved under a perfunctory window that looked out onto the brick wall of the adjacent building.
"The hotel has a safe, Sir. Should I have your bag removed there?" Pevensie asked, while using a towel to whisk rain droplets away from bag, coat, and his own shoulders.
"That's well thought of, but there's no need."
George could see Edmund had made good use of his time. Their clothes were hung up, kits were in the washroom, and there was a thermos and coffee cups and a bottle of rum.
A worn Private's uniform hung from a hanger over the door. There were crisp, new uniforms in the BSC inventory, so Pevensie must have deliberately chosen an old one. The man was excruciatingly, exhaustingly clever.
With Pevensie claiming the desk, there wasn't anywhere else to sit so George tested the far bed and was pleased that the mattress did not sink all the way to the floor. A decent bed was rarer in the War than good Scotch or genuine chocolate. His accommodation in Washington was ghastly in that regard.
"I thought one went to school to not be a valet, Pevensie. Where did you collect this set of talents?"
"Careful observation of those skilled at it, Sir."
Mrs. Caspian had referred to the mysterious Cook and Edmund had experience with the manservant of an Officer and Gentleman, as well as a logistics and supply officer? This fleet of personal servants was not consistent with the family's middle-class life. He had to just accept the Pevensie mystery and mercilessly use its fruits. This did not mean, however, that his curiosity had abated. He was looking forward to having Agnes read Edmund Pevensie's Tarot and discussing Jungian archetypes with her.
"And how were your meetings, Sir?"
Pevensie could not contain the sharp gleam of interest in his vague, polite question. Well, it was why George had twisted rules into a corkscrew – if all he wanted was a batman, he would have plucked one from the regular enlisted ranks.
"There's work to be done in Washington but I wouldn't be surprised if we end up back in London by summer's end. No need for the long looks," George added as Pevensie's countenance drooped. "We'll be going back because that's where the real work will be."
"So I would not have to…"
"I'll have to send you back to school next January, but not until then. Torch was the beginning of the end; or the end of the beginning. There are two big operations to come in the European theater – securing the Mediterranean this year and then what will be the final, big drive in '44. You and I will be in the middle of the first and in the planning for the second."
George reached over to the nightstand and grabbed the bottle of rum to inspect the label of what was actually a decent Jamaican brand. Pevensie must have tipped someone in the hotel or asked a member of the motor pool where to find the bottle.
Pevensie began re-tying his tie – a silent reminder that dinner was approaching. George thought he caught a wistful glance at the Private's uniform.
"Why continue wearing the suit and not the uniform?" George asked. Given how well he'd been living the cover, it was surprising and it would be good for him to get accustomed to the uniform.
"Ironic, isn't it?" Pevensie replied, fastening his silver cuff link. "A fighting fit man my age wants nothing more and now the opportunity is here and I'm in my father's altered suit. I had thought, however, that for this evening, the uniform would simply invite more distracting questions."
George tilted his head back on the bed and considered the situation. He'd hoped to meet Lieutenant John Pevensie in advance of dinner but the man had been out of the BSC offices for the day. Other than a brief aside before they left England and the note that afternoon, this was the first comment Pevensie had made of his so-far absent father.
Lieutenant Pevensie had made very persistent efforts to bring his son, Peter, to America but had been curiously silent on both his daughter's previous activities and her and Edmund's recruitment into the SOE now. He'd assumed silence was acquiescence but perhaps that had been unduly optimistic? Would Lieutenant Pevensie kick up an embarrassing fuss now that his son was already here even though he'd apparently expressed no particular interest before?
George had done his research and most singular was how so apparently unremarkable a man had fathered Mrs. Caspian and Edmund Pevensie. Gladys Gardner, his secretary at the Embassy, knew all about Lieutenant Pevensie through the office girl network and provided more colour to the gray SOE file.
"Bottom-pincher," Gladys had said. "He's generous, good-looking, talks a lot about his work, and will buy a girl drinks and a nice dinner at the Rainbow Room or Delmonico's. He's a very good dancer."
"But it's not altruism?" he'd asked for confirmation. Gladys had laughed.
"No girl has been let go for saying no to Lieutenant Pevensie, not that they say no very often, to hear the gossip," Gladys had said. "He doesn't wear his wedding ring in the office but can forget to hide the pictures in his rooms of his wife and children. He will pay for a girl's taxi home."
With Glady's insightful reporting, George had felt an uncomfortable prick of unaccustomed guilt. Catarina, his lover, now doing advance intelligence work in Italy, sympathized more with his wife, which he'd always thought prodigiously unsporting. He did not like to think on how his daughter might view the matter.
So, he was walking into a dinner with a young man and his disinterested, philandering father? How much did Edmund know? George watched as Edmund carefully inspected his father's suit coat and dusted off a day's lint and city soot. Mrs. Caspian had managed men with superb and subtle sophistication – she knew how to flirt and, more importantly, knew when to do so. His brief observation of Edmund Pevensie that afternoon had shown a well-mannered man who was polite to the women of the BSC secretarial pool, without being condescending. This was not surprising, he supposed, as Mrs. Caspian would certainly not tolerate such behavior from a younger sibling. Edmund probably knew a fair bit about his father, and suspected far more.
George cleared his throat. "I did try to track your father down at the office but he wasn't there today. I had thought it best if I joined you for dinner so I could answer any questions he might have about the arrangement and your duties. If you would rather…"
"No, Sir," Pevensie said quickly. "It is best if you come. I don't think he would challenge your decision, but…" He paused. "But you should know my father may be disappointed, or angry."
George stood up and held out his arms so Pevensie could help him into his overcoat. "Don't worry. I'll be damned if I'm sending you back before I've gotten full use out of you. If your father is difficult, I can pull rank on him. He is only a Lieutenant."
Lieutenant Pevensie was late.
He had booked them at the very posh Rainbow Room, which was on the 65th floor of the RCA Building and afforded spectacular views. As "Oh yes, of course, we are so glad to welcome any personal guests of Lieutenant Pevensie," he and Edmund were shown promptly to a very nice, private table. They jostled a little for the prime seat but having come all this way, George made Edmund take the seat by the window. George took for himself the better view of the restaurant's interior though it was so dark and the atmosphere was so smoky, he could barely see across the table.
"I would have thought we'd have to be in an airplane for a sight like this," Edmund said, staring out the window at Manhattan below.
A waitress appeared for their cocktail order and didn't even blink when Edmund asked for a rum, neat. He was polite, but spoke in a clipped, authoritative way that assumed compliance would follow. Edmund had abandoned the silent, observant, invisible clerk role and assumed the regal air and bearing his elder sister possessed – which was presumably the same kingly mien that Major al-Masri had said he had seen in Peter.
George indulged in a glass of good American whiskey. Depending upon his dealings with Lieutenant Pevensie, he might need another two or three. Or, he and Edmund could get drunk on the bottle of rum back in the hotel room after the dinner.
"I know rum is easy to come by here on the East Coast of America. Still, with your proclivity for it, maybe we should have enlisted you in the Navy," George said after the waitress returned with their drinks.
"That did occur to me for several reasons, not the least of which was the grog ration and historically lenient enlistment practices." Edmund swirled the drink in his glass, took a sip, and set the glass down again. "And, unlike my elder brother, I do have sea legs. However, the Army did seem easier under the circumstances."
Edmund turned away from the window and looked about the restaurant. He was fiddling with a matchbook, the only obvious sign of nerves.
"The train is probably late," George said, though it irked him to make excuses to the man's son. "Or maybe he could not get a taxi."
A jovial voice rose above the low conversation and clinking dinnerware in the restaurant. "Thank you, Margaret; I'll see myself to their table!"
Edmund's head snapped about. He swiftly rose from his seat and wiped his hands on his – his father's – suit trousers.
The man himself strode toward them, revealing to George what the file had not about a 41-year old editor at a publishing house turned SOE functionary. Lieutenant John Pevensie was tall, trim, and carried the athlete's physique from his Cambridge crew and hurdler days. He was blonde, which for some reason, George had not expected.
In the way he was moving his hands, George saw that Lieutenant Pevensie was hurriedly sliding his wedding ring onto his ring finger. He was therefore also an idiot if he thought his perceptive son would not notice such a manoeuvre.
Rising, from his own chair, George's doubts about the man settled to firm dislike. He didn't proffer a hand to shake and forced Pevensie to give him the proper salute owed his superior officer.
"Sir, Lieutenant Pevensie, Sir."
"Colonel Walker-Smythe, Lieutenant, and I'm very pleased that your son agreed to be my personal assistant for the next year."
Edmund moved out of the shadows in his seat by the window and stuck out his hand. "Hello, Father. You are looking well."
"Edmund," Pevensie said, not quite a question but definitely not an endorsement, either. There was no embrace or joy in this reunion. The handshake was lukewarm at best. In what was surely one of the most misdirected attempts at humour George had ever witnessed, the man quipped, "Well, you certainly aren't Peter!"
"No," Edmund replied evenly. "I'm not."
Lieutenant Pevensie turned to George, looking confused and, as Edmund had predicted, he sounded angry. "I do not understand this. What is Edmund doing here? When I saw the wire two days ago, I assumed it was just a mistake. I thought Peter had changed his mind and was coming after all."
They were all still standing, which leant a confrontational air to the whole exchange.
"No mistake, Lieutenant. I extended the invitation to Edmund, not to Peter, and he accepted."
"But he's only thirteen!"
"Private Edmund Pevensie is eighteen." George was certain Edmund had lived almost twice that long. And, come to think of it, the current – and false—passport said Edmund was fifteen, which meant Lieutenant Pevensie did not know how old his own son was even by the standards of the lying birth records.
"This is all highly irregular," the Lieutenant said.
"It certainly is," George agreed. "But given for whom we work and the charter under which we operate, I assure you such things are not unusual, either."
George spoke the lie confidently. It wasn't that it was necessarily untrue – it was, more accurately, unknowable as those who were party to such arrangements didn't speak of them.
"I can't imagine what possessed my wife to sign whatever consents were necessary to part with her precious children." The man was speaking as if one of his precious children was not standing right before him. It left George wondering if all the keen perception in their family had come from the mother. Helen Pevensie knew her children were remarkable and understood why he had sponsored and recruited them. She had seen it as her patriotic duty to permit her three eldest children into the War.
"I requested it and it was done," George said, daring the man to counter the order. "Are we clear, Lieutenant?"
Finally, there was a look of grudging acceptance in the Lieutenant's mien. "I see. Yes, Colonel, I understand."
"Again, allow me to say it is a pleasure and honour to bring your son to Washington with me. Shall we be seated?"
There was not enough rum and whiskey in New York to make the dinner anything but painful. The conversation moved readily enough when they stuck to the War. The Casablanca directive and Stalingrad lasted them through the cocktails, ordering and first course. George was holding Guadalcanal and North Africa in reserve for coffee after the plates had been cleared. Before a lull could become truly uncomfortable, Edmund skillfully put questions to his father that elicited long-winded explanations about his propaganda work with U.S. publishers and writers.
It was exceedingly dull, except for the remarkable fact that British spies were manipulating American public opinion in favor of Allied war policy.
There were three excruciatingly awkward instances when attractive young women approached Lieutenant Pevensie, asked to be introduced to his dinner companions, and inquired whether the men would be staying for the dancing at the nightclub later.
With effort, George was able to avoid covert glances to see how Edmund was managing the women's blatant flirtation, which was plainly occurring now because his father had reciprocated in the past.
The third time, even Lieutenant Pevensie was embarrassed when a pretty blonde pouted at the news that they would not be staying and sashayed back to the bar.
"With so many men deployed, this happens," Pevensie muttered, glancing at his son.
"Yes," Edmund replied. "It does."
Into the uncomfortable pause that followed, Pevensie suddenly pointed at his son's dinner plate, and said loudly, "And I see it's the same as always with you, Edmund! You've hardly eaten your dinner!"
The effort was so falsely jocular, Lieutenant Pevensie surely was trying to deflect undesirable attention from himself by belittling his son. Edmund looked down at his meal and opened his mouth to say something, but Pevensie went on.
"It was just like that, even when he was a baby, Colonel. Edmund was always fussy, always too hot or too cold, didn't want anyone to touch him or change his soiled nappy. He was a dreadfully picky eater. It was utter chaos in the evenings. And great Scott, his sleeping! His mother didn't get more than three hours a night for the year after he was born!"
A dreadful pall fell over the table. George knew that if he had spoken so condescendingly to his own daughter, she would have, justifiably, thrown water in his face and stomped off.
Edmund pulled his eyes up from the stirred food on his plate and George made note of the expression in the hope that he never saw it again. "Fortunately, my mother forgave me for the faults of infancy, as any parent must."
George burst into laughter at the sharp riposte.
"And speaking of children," Edmund continued with a grace that surely was practiced and most assuredly not deserved by its beneficiary, "Father, would you like to hear of Lucy, Susan, and Peter?"
Edmund began spinning little tales of Christmas crammed to the rafters with friends and family, a very fresh pudding, and a lewd dance called the Jitterbug. It sounded rehearsed to George's ear and his esteem for the young Private rose another notch because Edmund must have been mentally preparing scripts for this ordeal. Edmund cajoled photos from his father's wallet and George was treated to tender familial recollections from before the War. Peter, who bore a striking physical resemblance to his father, or Susan, usually held Lucy who, in the oldest pictures was still in a nappy; in the most recent, she had a doll. Edmund was usually scowling at the restraining hand on his wrist or shoulder.
"I used to hate standing still for pictures," Edmund said, neatly deflecting another critique before his father could utter it. "I still dislike being the focus of attention, whether in photographs or elsewhere."
"It's a highly commendable quality in our line of work," George said, complimenting Edmund when his father did not.
"I've always thought so," Edmund replied, looking pleased nonetheless.
His father was holding a candid family picture from the Lake District. "This was our last holiday together before the War. Lucy went everywhere with that dolly. We gave it to her when she was five. I am certain I could find a new one here and send it to her."
"She gave that doll to another London evacuee we met whilst at the Professor's during the Blitz," Edmund said.
"So she does need a new one?"
"Not a doll," Edmund said kindly. "Lucy is very fond of pocketknives."
Lieutenant Pevensie shook his head, whether in disagreement or disbelief, George could not say.
"And Susan? How is my big girl?" Pevensie turned toward him. "You met her, didn't you, Walker-Smythe? She's absolute rubbish in school, but, by Jove, she's pretty enough to marry well."
Edmund's eyes narrowed – the man was having difficulty letting slights upon his sister's competency go unanswered. George felt his own equanimity giving way. His own daughter had felt to be a stranger when he'd seen her at Christmas but how could Mrs. Caspian's own father be so fecklessly dismissive of her? Was the man blind?
George set his glass down hard enough to rattle the silverware and water glasses. "Lieutenant, your daughter rendered outstanding service to our offices last summer and I think very highly of her acumen. It was in part upon her recommendation that I invited Edmund."
Pevensie laughed. "I'm sure she will be quite the head turner, Colonel, but as her father, I insist that Susan is too young for that sort of thing!"
George was furious that Pevensie was again trying to foist on to others the same shortcomings of character and understanding he possessed. But before his severe reprimand formed, George felt a sharp pain in his instep and an even sharper look from Edmund that said as plainly as if shouted, "Let it pass."
Instead of giving Lieutenant Pevensie the dressing down he deserved, George signaled their hostess for coffee. It was time to get out of there and get into that comfortable bed at the hotel and pretend that this ghastly ordeal had never occurred.
Lieutenant Pevensie's hand shook as he raised his drink to take another deep swallow. "And about that invitation to come here, Edmund, please, can you explain, why did Peter enlist? If he had just waited two years, the War would be over. And if he wanted to serve so badly, why didn't he come to New York? He has such a bright future ahead of him. Working here would advance his career prospects. It makes no sense!"
Pevensie had had one rum tonic too many because he was becoming maudlin and very discursive.
Edmund reached across the table and pushed a glass of water into his father's hand. "With all respect, sir, Peter wants to be a paratrooper and he wants to fly in the Glider Corps. It's a good place for him and he'll be under good command."
"But as a common RO?!" His slurring voice rose, high-pitched, even above the noise in the restaurant. Edmund tried to shake his father's arm and quiet him but Lieutenant Pevensie was having none of it. "Peter had invitations to Officer Training! He broke four records in the OTC games!" The Lieutenant stared again at the picture on the table of his very young children on holiday and very delicately returned the much creased photograph to his wallet. "I don't understand it, Ed."
"Peter will do what Peter will do, Father, and you will have more success moving Gibraltar once he settles upon a course," Edmund replied. "Peter believes he should be wearing the winged horse of the 6th Airborne and we all agree with that decision."
George wondered who the we was and assumed Edmund was speaking of his siblings - it was a curious turn of phrase he filed away for later consideration.
"But why is he set on being common fodder for Nazi guns? He's throwing away what we always wanted for him; it's just a waste of everything he was meant to be."
Edmund leaned forward and set his hand on his father's arm. "Father, Peter is prepared to make the same sacrifices to our cause that we are all called to make. But, I assure you, he is not foolishly courting death."
"You lot don't know what you are about," Pevensie said bitterly. "What does Peter know of command or war or death? What do you know of it? This isn't the tin soldiers you play with on the drawing room floor."
They poured Lieutenant Pevensie into a taxi. The father's farewell of his son was at least sincere. The awkward handshake became an embrace. Edmund, however, fabricated on the spot an excuse about meeting commitments preventing their breakfasting together and train schedules demanding departure which prevented a luncheon engagement.
"Do come to Washington, Father, and I shall try to come up here," Edmund said. "With us both so close, we have no excuse."
George could think of several.
It was a short, cold, silent walk back to their hotel.
His patience with family drama had reached the breaking point. "We need to open that bottle," George said once they were back in the room. Pevensie was fussing with hanging up coats.
"Leave them!" George barked and put his coat over a doorknob. "Take off that tie," he ordered, while pulling off his own. "And pour the two of us some rum."
"Yes, Sir, right away, Sir," Pevensie replied. He dutifully removed his tie and draped it over the desk chair, shrugged out of his jacket, tossed his cuff links on the desk, rolled up the shirtsleeves, fetched two glasses from the washroom and poured the drinks.
"You take orders well, Private."
"I do, Sir."
George sat again on his bed and Pevensie returned to his desk chair. They both raised their glasses and after muted "Cheers," drank.
He waited until he saw some of the tension leach out from behind Pevensie's eyes.
"This is damned fine rum," George said. "It's a good choice."
"I'm glad you like it, Sir. I'll make note of it."
"You did very well tonight, too, but wearing the suit was a mistake. I don't want to see you in it again unless there's a damned better reason for it."
"I understand, Sir. The..." Pevensie paused, hesitated, and flushed with embarrassment over conduct that was not his own but that his mere presence had precipitated. "I realize now that the awkwardness would have come regardless and thank you for your efforts to defuse it."
He could see why Mrs. Caspian had associated the Justice card of the Tarot with her brother. Edmund had maintained the maturity his father had lacked and had been more generous than his father had certainly deserved. He really wanted Agnes' views of Private Pevensie. Maybe he'd have him wear the suit that one time for Agnes and see what she made of it.
"About some of the things your father said." It was galling to try to soften such appalling behavior and George wasn't going to try to psychoanalyze someone who was a subordinate and not a patient. But he also couldn't let it just sit and fester. He remembered enough from his training in Vienna and in the years of observation since to know that such things could destroy relationships and ego, with terrible consequences. "I'm not excusing it but when a man is alone, away from his family, he wants to think that everything will be exactly as he left it, that nothing will ever change…"
Pevensie held up his hand. "Thank you, Colonel, but, with all due respect, I am aware of the phenomenon." His eyes drifted to the journal on the desk, he took a deep breath and some of the tension left his shoulders. "When you ride to war, so to speak, you fix in your mind's eye a vision that will hold you through the horror you must deliver at your own hand. Protecting that vision is why you leave, why you are willing to kill, and why you keep fighting to come home again."
George did not think such passionate words were a mere theoretical exercise. He should really stop being surprised at this point. Mrs. Caspian could have instructed her own father on the subjects of command, war, killing, and death. It stood to reason that her brother could as well. Edmund's words were those of a seasoned soldier.
"Also, Colonel, my apologies for that pain to your foot. I did not deem it a conversation we could carry given my father's limited understanding." Pevensie again seemed embarrassed for behavior that he was not responsible for in any way. "It is regrettable but his ignorance could not be corrected under the circumstances. He has hardly seen us at all since the War started."
His mother had said the change in her children had its roots in their evacuation during the Blitz. Lieutenant Pevensie's ignorance of the dramatic changes was therefore explained, but his blindness to what had been sitting in front of him could not be excused.
"It hurt like hell, so let's work out better ways to communicate for next time? Given what you and your sister concocted, I expect codes and hand signals are a specialty of yours."
Pevensie's level stare back at him was solid confirmation of every suspicion George had harboured about Mrs. Caspian and her brother. They both were too clever by half and under the influence of the Moon of the Tarot - a life of illusion.
"They are, Sir. I'll prepare a lexicon of simple gestures and cues and will be glad to teach it to you."
Of all the cheek.
George raised his glass. "Pevensie, whatever your father thinks, Mrs. Caspian said you were the man for the job. Major al-Masri said the same. And not that I'd expect otherwise, because I trust both of them, but your conduct shows they weren't wrong."
"Thank you, Colonel." Pevensie raised his own glass and they both drank. Pevensie turned back to the desk, set his glass aside, and made a show of opening the driving manual. "With your permission, Sir, I should do a little more reading? Gather my thoughts for tomorrow?"
George saw what the couched request really was. Men had to make allowance for one another when living in such close quarters. Some wanted to drink and talk it through. Others, George included, wanted to hit something. But he'd known men like Edmund Pevensie, too, the reserved ones, the spies, the ones who needed quiet and solitude.
George nursed another glass of rum and tried to keep reading Kim only to wake up when he heard the door of the room shut. There was a note on the nightstand, Went for a walk.
Pevensie's journal was on the desk. He'd not even bothered to put his usual minor security measures in, the precisely tied knot of string and the hair that would fall out if it was opened. Tonight only, George would not scold about always using the precautions even when you were distracted or disturbed.
He flipped through the journal. There were four pages of new writing. At the beginning, the smeared words were written in hard, angry strokes. As Pevensie had written through the emotion of the evening, his calmer, flowing script emerged at the end.
He could make no sense of it, other than thinking that, from the length of sentences, odd grammar and repetitive words, much of it was poetry.
One word did appear regularly, capitalized, at the beginning or end of full sentences, offset with commas, as if it were a given name.
Illustration 43 was not a success. Maybe they were both getting older. Illustration 43 required a sense of humour and Morgan's own had been stretched far too thin of late. There was too much sadness and tension to laugh.
She slid out of their bed and went to the window. The bonfire was still burning; the Dwarfs and Fauns were still dueling, drums versus flutes. They would play a long while yet; she had a wager down that this time the Fauns, in memory of Leszi, would finish early, too drunk to continue playing. It was a strange and wild night and she could feel the tension in the air.
"I'm fine," she said quickly. Too quickly.
"If you are fine, you are doing better than anyone else," Edmund said. "This has been a difficult ordeal for us all."
In some academic way, she had known the swords and arrows were used for more than sport and hunting. She knew that bonding with a warrior King and his country could mean real, live fighting. Edmund had been guarded by enormous carnivores from the first day they met. He always had at least a knife in an arm sheath.
Still… "Bankers go to meetings, not war. I've never been through anything like this before."
It had been a month of unpleasant firsts. She doubted it would be the last. Edmund, Lucy, and the High King had all gone to war; Susan would have as well, she was so furious at this attack upon their ally. But they did not want to risk a hostage situation and one of the Four had to remain in case Cair Paravel had to be defended, either from the Giants in the North, or Calormenes from the South. Morgan sighed and smoothed her hands over her stomach. And that's what our child would have to do, too.
"It was difficult for me as well, Morgan," Harold said from their bed.
She steadied herself against the window sill. "What do you mean? You've done this before. You've… killed." She was glad she was not looking at him when she said the words.
"Of course. Death is an old friend." Edmund spoke so calmly Morgan felt sick. "As Leszi's death reminds us, Aslan could call us home at any moment."
This was all so morbid and horrid. "It makes it sound like you are looking forward to it!"
"Not at all. None of us seeks death, but we don't fear it, either."
His calm cooled her angry woods. "So why was the siege difficult?" she asked. "You said it ended up being an utter rout for Narnia."
Edmund was a long time in answering. The cries outside turned stranger and sadder and the drumbeats faster.
"The difference this time was that I rode off knowing I was leaving you behind."
She turned around. In the dark she could just make him out, pale and quiet, sitting among the scattered pillows of their bed, one leg pulled up. "I suppose you hadn't done that before," Morgan said.
"No." Edmund leaned forward, and rested his chin on his knee. "The realization came upon me most unexpectedly. I was scolding Corin. Lucy and I realized we'd found Cor again. Our scouts said Rabadash was at the gates. We had to ride right into the heat of it and my nerve nearly failed for a moment when I realized that I might not ever see you again in this world."
"That's…" Touching? Humbling? Terrifying?
"I had this picture, in my head, of you, standing on the dock as we came ashore."
Well that explains it.
"You were just remembering my kiss when you came down the gangway!" Morgan replied with a laugh that was almost genuine.
He laughed too, sounding like a Tiger's chuff. They weren't especially public in their affections for all that so many Narnians did their courting and mating without any regard to who might see or hear – true privacy wasn't really possible regardless with sharp-eared Beasts and sharp-eyed Birds. Their kiss had been both a welcome home after weeks away and her farewell to a King riding to war. It had been breathless, desperate, ardent and so, hmmm, intimate, it drew whoops and hollers, caws and cackles, from the onlookers. Then, Harold had torn himself away, Lucy was shouting more orders, and they'd all run straight to the Armory. The Company had galloped off to Anvard within the hour.
"You won't like me to say it, Morgan, but if my time had come in combat with Rabadash, I would have carried that memory of you on the dock to Aslan's Country."
She sniffed again. He was right; she didn't like to hear it. "That sounds uncommonly romantic," Morgan replied.
"Very," he agreed. "Going into a battle knowing you might not survive can be very clarifying but even so I had never had felt anything like this before."
And to think she had once scoffed at the notion that either of them was romantic. "And here I thought you were saying all these things as a clever ploy to induce another attempt at illustration 43."
"I won't say no to the offer, but that's not why I said it, dearest. You don't hear tender endearments from me often enough. It should not have taken possible death to spur such a declaration."
Death? Perhaps. Or, something else.
"What came to Narnia can leave the same way."
That's what the Cat of her dreams had always warned of.
Too late now.
Morgan again smoothed her hands over her depressingly normal middle. So much time trying to avoid pregnancy, and then two miscarriages, and now, nothing. The Archen midwives had said it could be so and the Canine specialists detected nothing untoward. There was nothing to do but keep trying. She wanted some part of him to always be here. She and Narnia both needed that reassurance.
"What came to Narnia can leave the same way."
"Actually, there is something I have in mind," she said.
"If not a repeat attempt at 43, perhaps Number 12 from Volume 2?"
"Tease," she retorted. Morgan lifted her wrap from the hook on the wall, shrugged into it, and returned to their bed.
He took her hand and helped her slide in. "I'd really like to hear about Mr. Noll and the Mole spies. Edmund."
The sounds of wailing flutes rose above the pounding drum.
"This is my fault for mentioning it, I suppose. And with all the noise, we won't be sleeping right away. It will get louder before they all pass out."
She drew the wrap around her more tightly and sat up next to him. "I know you don't like to talk about it and especially not if Jalur might hear. But he isn't on Night Guard duty tonight. You've spoken of the story for years as something very important. There must be more to it."
"There is. It dates from our very first years in Narnia, though it is more Lucy's tale than mine."
She set her hand on his bare shoulder and felt the strength beneath her fingers. "Please?"
"Very well. It is an important tale, even if an uncomfortable one in places, which is, I suppose, why we tell them." He sighed and leaned back in the bed. "It began almost as soon as we…"
What?! "No!" Morgan cried. "Stop!" Really.
"No? No what?" Harold asked. "I thought you wanted to hear the story."
Morgan snorted and shoved her mate. Edmund made a big to-do of injury and flailing.
"That's not how you begin a Narnia story. It's not how Jina…" She stopped, realizing she had said the beloved Hound's name aloud for the first time since her death.
In the dark, they both held a breath and she loved Harold so much for knowing how to wait while she collected herself without her having to say anything.
Morgan exhaled. I saw my love ride off to war knowing he might never return. I can say her name again.
"Jina's stories always began, Come now Gentle Beasts and Birds." Morgan paused. "But there had better not be any Beasts or Birds in here!"
When there was no comment or sound in the bedroom, she continued, "Jina would have said, Come now Son of Adam and Daughter of Eve, that might you hear the tale of the Mole spies and the Traitor Noll, and of the Valiant Queen and the Just King." Jalur wasn't on duty but still Morgan lowered her voice so any outside wouldn't hear. "And of the noble sacrifice of the Hound Merle, Guard to King Edmund, Knight of the Order of the Table, Duke of the Lantern Waste, Count of the Western March, and not father, brother or Peter."
Edmund laughed. "Perhaps you should recite it?"
Morgan nudged him and shook her head. "Your turn, now."
He cleared his throat. "The Tale of the Mole Spies and the Traitor Noll is told in cave, nest, and den, in wood, mountain, meadow, and pond, so that we might remember it. For though Dwarfs build, and Birds fly, and Fauns dance, Naiads flow, and Dryads green, the Good Beasts of Narnia remember. So, Friends, heed my words. Stop and listen with your sensitive hearts so that all may know this tale of ill judgment, betrayal, and fidelity. Harken to me now."
"It begins thus. In the start of the second year following the defeat of the Usurper Jadis and the end of her interminable winter, the Four, though they ruled with Aslan's blessing and by his will, were still young and most inexperienced. They made many errors; one though, was most especially grievous. It was the Queen Lucy who was first to perceive the wrong and, as her wont, act to correct it…."
To follow, Chapter 18, The least of my brothers and sisters
In which Lucy embarks upon a career as both saint and communist.
I want to thank everyone who returned and read the last chapter. Thank you so much for letting me know that you are still reading and interested in the story. Please, never apologize for limited English or ability to say only "thank you!" At least I know you are still there and it means the world to me. Thank you.
Welcome especially to newer readers.
A few notes. This is now the fourth time I have returned to the day and night surrounding Sir Leszi's farewell.
Walker-Smythe's references to Operation Mincemeat are taken from the compelling read, Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre. The outlines of Mincemeat originated with Ian Fleming. It called for planting fake battle information on a corpse and floating the corpse into purportedly neutral leaning Spain where Nazi-leaning authorities would provide the false information to the Nazi planners.
Details about the British Security Coordination (BSC) the American arm of the Special Operations Executive, come from numerous sources, including the previously cited, J. Conant's, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring. The Casablanca Conference was from 14 - 24 January, 1943. Roosevelt, Churchill and de Gaulle attended to plan the Allied European strategy. Stalin did not attend due to the ongoing battle in Stalingrad.
Lieutenant John Pevensie finally appears. His philandering (and Walker-Smythe's) are based upon my reading of The Irregulars and other material. Additionally, as I have mentioned before, the Little Kinsey Report documented rampant marital infidelity, same sex encounters, and pre-marital sex in 1949. Lieutenant Pevensie and Colonel Walker-Smythe are very much a product of their time and their behavior is consistent with it.
Lieutenant Pevensie is also an ass. I have some thoughts on all this and Edmund's characterization that I'll put up in my Live Journal.
My deepest thanks, again to Oldfashionedgirl95 and Starbrow for the support.